In Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, the character Andrew Loeb takes some pretty drastic action [1] against the protagonist towards the end of the book. I find myself rather puzzled at this as I didn't get the "beef" between the two.

Loeb is described as a neo-luddite in Wikipedia and Stephenson made some allusions to his extreme nature [2] but I feel I've missed something in the character's progression.


[1] By trying to kill him even after losing a limb
[2] by linking him to the Digibomber investigation

  • 1
    Loeb definitely was extremely mentally imbalanced. I'm not sure there's a rational explanation for his chosen actions in "reality", and there wasn't IIRC one in the book text. One possibility might be an analogy to Sarah Connor going to try and kill Miles Dyson. Commented May 5, 2014 at 13:23

6 Answers 6


Throughout the book, Stephenson covers Loeb's entire history. I don't remember the exact points where all of these are covered, but it is said Andrew's childhood and adolescence saw him involved in a terrible family relationship, bitter divorce and even an abduction. His parents fight over him like he is property and using him as a weapon to hurt one another.

Pixel covers Andrew's college activities. Randy and Andy meet when Andy requests some books from the inter-library loan program where Randy works. Andy is researching Native American tribes by examining their diet, calorie intake, and energy expenditures for daily activities, which piques Randy's nerd sensibilities. Their relationship is fairly amicable at this point, as they have frequent discussions including a survivalist expedition into the mountains. Only when Randy broaches the idea of using Andy's research in a video game (technically, a computer aided RPG software package) does their relationship spiral into animosity. In short, Andy believes his research to be the more valuable contribution, underselling all the data entry, number crunching and programming that Randy did to create working, usable software. Convinced that the software will never be commercially successful, Randy abandons the effort to publish it at all.

Later, Andy's instability is shown to continue growing, as Randy explores the expansive online presence where Andrew refers to himself as RIST (Relatively Independent Sub-Totality) 9E03 (TVTropes Warning). This is reminiscent of some early-web crazy people, like the Time Cube guy, where the only thing scarier than someone with enough free time to post such a thing is someone with that much spare time who is serious about what they say.

Finally, there is a long exchange between Randall and Avi, while they are walking on the beach outside Avi's home, just before the raid on Novus Ordo Seclorum. In this dialog, they cover Andy's his recent professional career developments into an attorney. In a twist, Avi reveals that

Andrew is working for the lawful-evil business partner Hubert Kepler and is part of the legal team suing Randy and Avi's Epiphyte II corporation. Randy expounds that this is a perfect profession for Andy, because Andy's childhood would leave him to believe that a rich, overbearing minority shareholder could actually be materially harmed by making slightly less money from one of their investments, when actually this is a common power-grab litigation technique.

They make it pretty clear that Loeb has come to hate Randall, his world of technology, and his company. Randall compares him to Gollum (continuing the LOTR riff where Randy compares himself to a Dwarf, his Grandfather Lawrence to a Wizard, and his estranged girlfriend and her friends in Academia to Hobbits). It is a weak comparison, in my opinion, as technology that Loeb hates isn't a reasonable facsimile for the One-Ring, corrupting him over time; Andrew is childhood-trauma crazy (and not because he murdered his best friend over a video game). However,

Stephenson's foreshadowing is apt, because like Gollum, Andrew reappears during the climax as the final serious threat to the protagonists, stalking through the jungle, losing a leg to a land mine, and then shooting Amy with an authentically hand-made reproduction of a Cayuse arrow, learned from his aforementioned extreme survivalist activities.

Randy theorizes that Andy is full enough of hatred to want to injure him and his loved ones in any way possible. Whether or not craziness and hatred is enough of a motive for Andrew Loeb is up to the reader to decide. But I agree that, as an antagonist, Andrew isn't the deepest of characters. We don't see any of Andrew's side of the story. Come to think of it, I don't remember there being any scenes of dialog with Andy at all.

  • 4
    I agree, and some detail: When Andy and Randy first meet, it's remarked that it's because Andy is one of the people who's too strange for the full-time librarians to want to deal with... and later that Charlene is uncomfortable having Andy in the house. It's pretty clear that he gives off some sort of crazy vibe to normal people.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 20:32

There are few possibilities I can think of.

  1. Simplest answer, albeit kind of a meta one, Stephenson had introduced the character, made him important to the protagonist's past, and wanted resolution, as well as a late-book threat to the protagonist. The easiest way to tie up both is to reintroduce the character of Loeb to provide the threat. Not a very satisfying answer, but possible.
  2. Loeb is the embodiment of Luddite opposition. Whenever new technology comes along, there's always someone who opposes it just because it is new. Thus, Loeb was introduced early on in the book, and reintroduced late in the book to emphasize that even after you conquer the technological and political aspects of the problem, there will still be people who will oppose your invention on grounds of novelty.
  3. Loeb is the random factor. No plan can accommodate all possible adversarial factors. Loeb is a step above the Giant Space Flea from Nowhere (TVtropes reference. Don't Google it if you value your spare time) in that he's a threat that the protagonist had never considered, but was possibly forseeable. Thus, he serves a purpose of showing that no matter how smart the protagonist is, he can still get blindsided.
  4. One theory not my own, but one that I like, is that Andrew Loeb represents fundamentalist terrorism. Much like Al Quaeda or figures such as the Unabomber, he represents someone who has a strong belief system and is not only willing to use violence to further his beliefs, but is also willing to co-opt the enemy's methods to do so (such as the fact that he maintains an online presence) even if he finds them abhorrent.

Ultimately, I do not believe that Stephenson has made any statements, so we really can only speculate.

  • 1
    I always hated that part in Cryptonomicon. It was just so damn random and out of left field. Commented May 5, 2014 at 20:10

I thought it wasn't just that Loeb was a luddite but that his primary motivation always involved proprietary claims -- ownership. Of knowledge, of technology, etc. When he wasn't suing for ownership on his own part he was suing for it on behalf of someone else (Wing). This is the exact opposite of what motivates people like Randy, Avi, and Goto. I agree that the character isn't quite developed enough, or maybe isn't talked about in places that stick in the memory enough.

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    – Skooba
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 15:48

Andrew Loeb seems to be suffering from a version of paranoia in which the sufferer actively seeks out persecution. This is often seen in serial litigants, as the legal system makes an excellent persecutor. In their minds the repeated judgements against them are yet more evidence that they are being persecuted by a biased or corrupt judiciary. This provides validation for an underlying life-script in which they are heroically battling against a powerful but shadowy enemy, and everything bad that happens is due to someone else.

In the story Loeb graduates from litigation to actual violence against those he considers to be his persecutors, but the underlying pathology is the same.


I think the conflict started when Andy and Randy worked together on research on food values in primitive hunting and gathering cultures, back when Randy was still working at the library. They had a falling out when Andy claimed to own part of the intellectual property in a video game that would use this research, and this dispute ended in a lawsuit.

After that, Andy's general craziness and neo-luddite leanings probably add fuel to the fire.


I think that the Andy Loeb character is an amalgam of various types of craziness that could be found on the internet at the time the book was written. If I were to guess (and of course I will): Stephenson made a list of many of the types of craziness he could observe on the net and within the fringes of academia, picked a subset of crazy actions that had happened actually somewhere (e.g. the email/net group debates and perhaps the survivalist stuff) and morphed it into parts of a plausible storyline. Added some plain crazy stuff (the final shootout) that would fit the Andy character. As to the "beef"? Andy was just crazy. He didn't have to make sense to anyone except himself (if that). It could have been deeper than that, but it doesn't have to be.

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